Paul: The Spiritual Abolitionist, Part II (26)
Scripture: Galatians 2:11–2:21
Paul: The Spiritual Abolitionist, Part II
Not Man’s Gospel!, Part 26
October 11, 2009
Text: Galatians 2:11-21
I. Paul Confronts Peter’s Contradiction of the Truth of the Gospel (2:11-13).
II. Paul Clarifies Peter’s Contradiction of the Truth of the Gospel (2:14-21).
A. Paul’s Question, v. 14
B. Paul’s Thesis, vv. 15-1
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, by which He forgives all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight.
The amazing truth of justification is that God the Father looks upon all who are justified as if they never had nor committed any sin, and as if they had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for them. The question is, “How does one obtain such an unspeakable blessing?”
First, Paul says emphatically three times in v. 16 that this blessing doesn’t come by way of “works of the law.”
2. Works of the Law
In Galatians 3:10, Paul writes, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”
If you choose this legal route, you must keep every law God has ever given perfectly with your whole being. Jesus succinctly summarized it as:
You must love God and other people perfectly with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind.
If you do this, you will be justified and earn your salvation. However, there is only one problem, the Bible says because of man’s fallen nature, perfect obedience to the law for the obtaining of life is impossible. Paul declares that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23). No man can claim God’s righteousness based on his or her obedience. All people have sinned and fall short of what God demands in His Law.
Now, if God had stopped with only this legal method, we would all be cursed. But, the good news is that God’s law doesn’t have the final word! Paul, in Romans 8:3 writes, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…”
Jesus kept the law perfectly for us and paid the full penalty for sin for us because we, due to our fallen nature, could not. And, so Paul, in 2:16, repeats the good news three times that a sinful, condemned man can be forgiven and accepted as righteous in God’s sight by faith in Christ alone!
3. Faith in Christ
What is faith?
First, faith is a self-emptying grace. Augustine wrote, “When God gives, it is to empty hands.” Faith turns a man’s focus away from self and self-confidence in anything he has done or failed to do and drives him to receive and rest in Christ alone as the sole ground of his acceptance before God.
Second, faith is an assured knowledge through which one accepts as true all that God has revealed in His Word.
Third, faith is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, all out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits and glory.
Now, the surprising, almost, too-good-to-be-true truth of the gospel is that justification is the present privilege of every believer, however weak his or her faith and, however imperfect his or her holiness!
Yet, it is regrettable how many believers do not live as if justification is a permanent, present, abiding reality in their lives.
Many Christians have divorced their hope of eternal life in the future from their relationship with the Lord in the present. As a result, they gain their sense of acceptance with God (or lack thereof) from their performance or failures.
But, C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote, “(The Christian) does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
We are called to live our daily lives as believers in a conscious, continual awareness of our justification. We renounce all confidence in our own performance and rest in Christ and His righteousness alone for our sense of acceptance with God both now and forever.
This means that:
- despite how much your conscience accuses you that you have grievously sinned;
- in spite of how acutely aware you are that you have broken God's commandments;
- regardless of how relentless your guilty feelings assail your memory;
- and even though you still find yourself at times inclined to great evil;
the gospel teaches that without any amount of godliness of your own, out of mere grace, God reckons to you the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ by faith alone!
Thus, Paul in Romans 7:24-25, cries in great faith, consolation and praise, “24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
This is the truth of the gospel! This is how true saving faith defines Christ to the sinner. The eye of justifying faith comes to behold Christ not as a judge who condemns and punishes but as a Savior who redeems and forgives.
Now, it is one thing to acknowledge this but quite another to trust and rest in it in when we are painfully aware of our sin and when our conscience accuses us and the enemy of our faith relentlessly condemns us. Martin Luther said the hardest thing to believe is that God will be gracious to us.
And so by unbelief, we come up with a thousand objections in our minds as to why God is gracious to others but not to us. We have an endless array of excuses as to why the Lord will forgive others and accept them into His family but not us!
In light of this, I want to address 4 common objections that Christians and non-Christians alike make against believing in and resting in Christ. By addressing these objections, my aim is to set before you the glories of Christ and the astounding good news of the gospel.
I also want to show you the unreasonableness of remaining in your unbelief instead of trusting and resting in Christ for your justification.
When rightly understood, all objections vanish in the light of the gospel. Paul, here in Galatians 2:16, shows that Christ stands in the gospel ready to receive, forgive and justify sinners.
I. Objection 1: My Sins are Too Many and Too Great.
Some think to themselves,
“Oh! my sins are so many and so great that if people really knew me they would tremble to think of the sins I have been guilty of. I have committed numerous great offenses against God and this makes my heart sink. No one accept God and my own conscience know how great a sinner I have been.”
How does the gospel answer?
The multitude and greatness of your sins should be a great reason to move you to run to Christ and receive Him. Neither the amount nor the greatness of your sins is greater than God’s grace and mercy.
Who can forget the dying words spoken by John Newton, once a wretched slave trader, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things — that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”
The Scriptures show that it is hard to imagine that you are worse than some who have received Christ and obtained mercy and forgiveness.
Listen to the Apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 1:13-16:
13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But a I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
David was a liar, murderer and adulterer whom God forgave (Ps. 32:5). Mary Magdalene, the Bible says, was filled with 7 demons (Mark 16:9). Three thousand Jews, who were guilty of the greatest and most heinous crime in history (i.e., the murder of Christ; breaking of the 6th Commandment), were forgiven and converted to Christ by Peter’s preaching of the gospel (Acts 2:36-41; 14:1)! Matthew, one of Christ’s 12 apostles, was a reprehensible Bernie Madoff! He was an oppressive extortioner who extracted as much money as he could from his fellow citizens and foreigners (Matt. 10:3).
Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 concerning the former lives of believers in Corinth.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Ralph Erskine wrote,
“The merit of Christ’s blood is infinite; though your sins were greater than all sins, yet there is virtue in his blood to expiate them; for, it cleanses from all sin. Though the sands be many and large, yet the sea can overflow them all: so, though your sins be numerous and great, the blood of Christ can cover them all,” (Ralph Erskine, The Works of Ralph Erskine, vol. 4, “The Duty of Receiving Christ and Walking in Him, Opened,” p. 332).
The question then is not about the multitude or greatness of your sin. In all of the preceding examples from Scripture, not a one was told to “clean up their act” in order to receive Christ. They were just exhorted to receive Him!
The Lord in grace, not conditions, calls you to come to Christ and receive Him. Though you are acutely aware of many and great sins, your greatest sin is unbelief- a refusal to believe the truth of the Gospel and receive and rest in Christ for your justification.
It is a great sin to elevate your sins so highly that you think the righteousness and grace of Christ are not above your sins. Therefore, turn from your sin and trust in Christ today for your acceptance before God. Believe that He will receive you, justify you and cleanse you.
II. Objection 2: I am so Guilty.
Some may think, “Oh, God is just and will not hold the sinner guiltless. My guilt is so grievous, how can I ever hope to escape God’s justice?”
Again, this very objection is an argument for why you should receive Christ; not reject him and persist in unbelief. God’s justice, as we have learned over the past weeks in our study of Galatians, must be satisfied. And the only way His justice is satisfied is through faith in Christ.
Jesus has given full satisfaction to the justice of God for sinners. He kept the law of God perfectly in His life and endured the penalty of God’s law fully on the cross. He exhausted the wrath and condemnation of God for sin. Thus, God the Father will not demand a double payment.
Listen to Paul in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
In Romans 8:1, 33-34, Paul writes, “1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
If God no longer condemns you, why do you condemn yourself? Stop trusting in your guilty feelings and start believing the truth of the gospel! It is unbelief not humility that keeps you from trusting in Christ alone for your acceptance before God.
Christ is not a lawgiver. He did not come to condemn but to save.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” (John 3:17).
“…I did not come to judge the world but to save the world,” (John 12:47).
Christ’s satisfaction for your guilt and condemnation are infinite. Therefore, trust in Christ alone today for your justification.
III. Objection 3: I am unworthy.
Still, many think, “But, I am unworthy. I have no right to receive Christ.”
To this objection, the Scriptures say, “to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12; emphasis mine). Again, to this objection Christ says, “…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Mark 2:17). Christ did not come to call those who think they have a right!
One of the greatest lies of the enemy is to make people think they must “clean up their act” before they are allowed to receive Christ and his salvation by faith. To this lie, Walter Marshall replies,
“Christ wants the vilest, most wretched sinners to come to him for salvation immediately. Christ never tells sinners to delay by preparing themselves for Him….Christ wants you to believe in him who justifies the ungodly; He does not require you to be godly before you believe (Rom. 4:5)…
The vilest sinners are properly qualified and prepared for the gospel’s design, which is to show forth the exceeding riches of grace when God pardons their sins and saves them freely (Eph. 2:7)…Jesus loved you in your most disgusting, sinful corruption, and He died for you…
It is no insult to Christ, it is no slighting of God’s justice and holiness, to come to Christ while you are a corrupt sinner. The real insult to Christ is when you condemn the fullness of His grace and merit by trying to make yourself righteous and holy before you receive Him! You condemn the justice and holiness of God when you try to improve yourself before you receive the righteousness and holiness that can only come through faith in Christ,” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, pp. 102-103).
But, one may reply, “But my sins have stained my life. I am too defiled.”
To this, the Lord replies, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool,” (Isa. 1:18).
Again, those who think they are unworthy object, “But, I am desperately lost, too far gone in my sin. I have been in sin for so long I am past all hope for obtaining eternal life.”
But, the promise of the gospel is that there is nowhere you can go, no distance too far where Christ cannot find you! Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” (Lk. 19:10).
“Desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of His art of saving.”
Again, a sense of unworthiness plagues a soul because of so much shame. Thus one laments, “But, I am so ashamed of what I have done. A painful sense of shame plagues me due to the awareness of the things I have done or for the things done to me.”
If you are struggling with a crippling sense of shame this morning, please listen to the life-giving promises of God, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,” (Rom. 10:11).
In Romans 5:5, Paul says the hope, which is ours because of the blessing of justification, “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
In other words, because of faith in Christ, you receive the privilege of justification now and forever and therefore will never have to eat crow (i.e., suffer humiliation/shame for all of your sin).
Listen to the author of Hebrews, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (12:2; emphasis mine).
Crucifixion was quite possibly the worst form of execution due to its excruciating pain and public shame. The Romans attached much disgrace and humiliation to crucifixions. Victims were stripped of their clothes and flogged before reaching the cross. They were usually hanged naked and made a public spectacle of shame for all to see.
Jesus, the Bible says, died a death of humiliation and shame on the cross for you. He bore your shame! Thus, John, in 1 John 2:28, writes that all who abide in Christ by faith now in light of His first coming will have no reason to be ashamed at His second coming, “…abide in him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at his coming.”
IV. Objection 4: Christ is not Willing.
Lastly, due to unbelief, one reasons, “Oh, I fear that Christ is not willing to save me. Will Christ really save me and accept me?”
Please listen once again to our Lord’s promise, which alleviates doubts, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt. 11:28). This is both Christ’s invitation and promise to sinners.
The Bible is in one sense simply an unfolding history of God keeping His promises to sinful men. Hebrews 10:23 says, “…He who promised is faithful.” All of God’s promises to us in Christ are true. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1:20, says “all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”
Jesus is a kind, gracious, merciful saving Lord. If you come to Him, He will receive you. He has promised that He will not cast you out, “All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out,” (John 6:37).
Christ, in the word of grace, which is the gospel of salvation, stands ready to answer every objection. Thus, in light of these great gospel promises, ask yourself one simple question: Do I believe this?
Do you believe the truth of the gospel as Paul sets forth here in Galatians 2:16? Or, do you believe your troubled conscience, doubts and guilty feelings? “Do you believe that the sin you are so painfully and shamefully aware of now will never be counted against you,” (Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, p. 71)?
Believe Christ to not be a condemner and Judge but rather a Savior and Redeemer. Come to Him and trust in Him today for your justification.
“1 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David…6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,” (Isa. 55:1-3, 6-7).
© John Fonville
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